Transforming Hearts... the Quinceanera!
Post written by Amanda Deal
As I reflect on today's activities, I am overwhelmed by the abundant gift God gave our team. After one year of excitement, preparation, anticipation, praying and collecting donations, the group quinceanera finally took place in San Salvador. It was not what we expected. It was far beyond our wildest dreams and expectations.
Our day started at the government orphanage, where we finished pampering and transforming these precious girls. Upon our arrival, ten of the girls in protective custody (recently rescued from trafficking), were dressed in their gowns, eagerly awaiting our arrival. The minute I saw them I began to cry (it was more like blubbering, I completely lost it)! I kept thinking that "I am so lucky!" Out of everyone in the world, God chose me and a team of 18 other volunteers to throw the quinceanera for these unbelievable girls. He knew about the quinceanera before we did. He knew which dress would perfectly fit each girl. And He knew that His plans would blow our plans out of the water.
This afternoon, Tanya and I fixed all 40 girls' hair. As I brushed, braided, straightened, and curled, I not only felt their excitement, but also their gratitude. These girls have been abused, neglected, and abandoned. They never had a dad tell them how beautiful they are or a mother to nurture them or brush their hair. God used us to give them the attention and love they have always deserved, but never received.
After we finished each girl's hair, makeup, and nails and passed out jewelry and shoes, we headed back to the mission house to prepare for the party. I walked up the endless staircase to the park above the Ackermann's home. When I saw the decorations, tables, centerpieces, and lights, the transformed park took my breath away. It was better than anything I could have imagined. The party took one year to plan; countless prayers, multiple participants, hundreds of donations, and countless hours.
The girls arrived shortly after 5pm. We rolled out the red carpet, gathered around the entrance, and watched as our awesome men (Micah, Robert, Dave, Stephen and Jeff, along with the rest of the missionaries, volunteers, and translators) escorted the beautiful ladies into the party. I kept thinking that finally these young ladies were blessed to be in the presence of Godly men as I watched them being escorted.
As the ladies entered the red carpet, we presented each of them with gift-wrapped necklaces. Each necklace was handmade by members of our church and had a breathtaking heart pendant. During the evening we encouraged the girls to remember the quinceanera and God's great love for them every time they looked at their necklaces.
Once the girls were seated, the fiesta began. We had the best MC's in El Salvador--Lily and Steve. We opened with words from Kurt and Oscar, our ministry leaders, the Director of Children's Social Services of El Salvador (who showed up unexpectedly), and Jenni spoke on behalf of the team and blessed our meal with prayer. We were blessed by Kurt's wife, Susan, who prepared an amazing meal for all the guests.
During dinner, I tried to stop by every table to talk with each girl and see how their night was going. All I kept seeing were HUGE smiles. Next, we had a local worship singer lead the girls in several songs. She got the girls up and dancing, praising the God who gave them this incredible gift. At the end of the evening, we learned that one of the girls had never had a birthday party. She is 15 years old. No one had ever remembered her special day. Needless to say, tonight was an unforgettable evening for her and the rest of the girls.
Throughout the night, we experienced several "Super Surprises." The first was "Pastel" (a beautiful pink three tier cake) and next, my favorite, Samba! A group of 10 young men entered the party banging on drums and swinging fire--they were the entertainment. I had so much fun celebrating God's gifts of music, dance, joy, and life with "mis hermanas" (sisters).
The next surprises were donated gifts of clothing for each girl. Then Stephanie shared some closing words of encouragement. She painted a perfect picture of true beauty and self-worth by illustrating the similarities between the girls' value and the value of pearls and diamonds. She explained how both of theses gems require time and work in order to "open up." Just like a diamond begins as a piece of coal and a pearl lies within an oyster, these girls also began this week as something different--something in need of transformation. We provided their physical transformation with the help of makeup, dresses, and hair products, but the transformation Stephanie spoke of was the ultimate transformation: the power of the Holy Spirit. Stephanie spoke of God's ability to use evil for good and the value behind each girl as a princess of the King regardless of past hurt and shame.
The girls responded better than we could have hoped for to these words and our actions. Two girls--Lady X (from previous blog) and her friend--went on the stage and thanked us for everything we had done for them, but more importantly they gave thanks and glory to their Heavenly Father. This meant more to me than anything!
During my time here last year, God began to reveal my purpose in life, and tonight I felt purposeful. I felt as if I were exactly in line with God's plan for both myself and for the girls of El Salvador. I know God was smiling upon the laughter, tears, dancing, and rejoicing that took place tonight. The final surprise of the evening was a slideshow, which Colleen worked on relentlessly throughout the past two days. The video included pictures of the girls' transformation (nail painting, waxing, hair, etc). They loved watching their faces on the "big screen" for the first time in their lives.
Tonight God completely overwhelmed our team and reminded us of how truly AMAZING He is. As we returned to the mission house and reminisced over the evening, we commented on how difficult it will be to communicate the magical fairy tale that we experienced together. I am so grateful to be part of this team and to have had the honor of participating in the most unforgettable quinceanera celebration. Tomorrow we will spend the morning saying good bye to the girls at the orphanage celebrating all that God did in our midst. In the afternoon we will move to the Calvary Chapel orphanage and join our construction team. Thank you for your prayers and support!